By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
Marlie Packer is in contention to be crowned World Rugby Player of the Year, according to her former England teammate Maggie Alphonsi.
The Yeovil-born star has become an integral part of a Red Roses team who have shattered records, stretching their winning run to 25 Tests ahead of the 2021 Rugby World Cup, which begins on Saturday.
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Simon Middleton's side head into the tournament as red-hot favourites with Packer one of six survivors from the squad that tasted success in France in 2014.
She heads into the latest World Cup on the back of a spectacular season at both club and international level, where she was nominated for the Six Nations Player of the Tournament award and later named England's player of the year.
And's Packer back-row colleague from England’s 2014 triumph believes she could claim rugby's ultimate individual prize and be crowned World Player of the Year if the Red Roses rule the roost in New Zealand.
"She is a player that seems to just be enjoying her rugby," said Alphonsi.
"It may sound quite cheesy, but she's gone from this stage of having pressure on her shoulders and not necessarily playing her very best rugby to, suddenly, weight off her shoulders and just literally enjoying having the ball in her hands.
"She was nominated for Six Nations player of the year and unfortunately missed out to get that award but then won England's player of the year award.
"If she does really well in this tournament, who knows, she could be named World Player of the Year."
Though there are a multitude of back row options for Middleton to choose from, Packer's place seems assured, which Alphonsi believes is just reward for a sustained spell of excellent performances.
"She's a player who is currently in very good form and has become a formidable force in that back row unit," added Alphonsi, who was meeting with women and girls who play for National Lottery-supported Haringey Rhinos RFC, to see for herself how National Lottery funding is having a positive impact on female participation at the club.
"That back row unit is highly competitive, it could be any three players in that back row, but she is another player who has become a bit of a leader in that side and has many caps now.
"I remember when she played with me alongside Sarah Hunter in the 2014 World Cup, and she'll be thinking she needs another gold medal to add to that trophy cabinet that she's got.
"I'm excited to see what she does. The key thing is going out there to focus on your game and what you can do with the team and not worry about all the pressures that come alongside it.
"That's the good thing about Marlie, she doesn’t let the outside world bother her."
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